Text: Luke 2:40-52
Date: Christmas II + 1/4/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Today (this year, and whenever there is a Second Sunday after Christmas [which is a little more than about half the time]) we get to hear that rare word concerning the Lord Jesus Christ when He was just twelve years old. It is rare because between the account of His conception and birth as an infant and the beginning of His active, earthly ministry when He was about thirty years old, we know nothing more about Jesus’ life as a child or a teenager or a young man than this little account. Surely St. Luke got this and probably other information directly from the Lord’s mother, Blessed Mary, an opinion inferred by many from the inclusion of the comment how Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart” (2:51). As with the practice of the Jews to this day of celebrating the Bat and Bar Mitzvah, the coming to the age of majority of a child around the age of 12 or 13, and of western Christians with the rite of confirmation at about the same age, there was probably a similar significance with Jesus’ attendance at the temple in that particular year. At least it wasn’t until that particular year that the memorable, treasured, unusual thing happened when Jesus “stayed behind in Jerusalem,” at the Temple, thus making for the three-day “Amber alert” for the missing youngster. The greatest significance of this incident for us has to do with Jesus’ identity as the Son of God the Father and as the very presence of God in His temple. Amid the amazement and astonishment and the ensuing questions and the lack of understanding, Jesus says he must be in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business. It is that divine necessity that emphasizes the Lord’s destiny, His purpose and the goal of His ministry that encourages us in the blessed destiny that is ours by faith in Him.
“As they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it.” Now, this was no great sin, of course. It is just to explain how it was that they could travel so far for so long before realizing that Jesus was not with them. Yet could this be at least a reminder for us of how we too sometimes miss Jesus because we merely assume He is somewhere around us. And it may be just as innocently and understandable. After all, how long have you been a Christian? You possibly remember Sunday school as a child. You certainly remember your catechetical instruction. Above all you know how faithful you have been in attending to the Lord’s Divine Service and how familiar the words of the liturgy and hymns have become over the years. Or maybe even attendance to the Lord’s Word and Sacrament has become a little too occasional of late. Of course, Christ is “around us” and everywhere according to His divine nature, but the question is always, where is He “for you,” and do you always realize it?
Can a person become bored of the Gospel or of worship? When that happens many are quick to blame anything other than themselves and their own fallen, sinful, spiritually lazy nature. They will blame the old, outdated hymns or liturgy or the seeming unfriendliness of the congregation or even blaming the pastor. And sometimes the pastor himself can get sidetracked, too, by trying to treat the symptoms rather than the real issues. I’m reminded of the person who complained to the pastor, saying, “The liturgy just doesn’t say what I mean.” To which the wise pastor responded, “rather you must learn to mean what the liturgy says.” The Word and the sacraments in the Christian community, these are the means by which Jesus says He is present for you. Let us be attentive with the eyes and ears of faith and, above all, look for and listen to and worship Jesus who is Emmanuel, God with us and for us.
I wonder why it took Mary and Joseph three days to search for and find Jesus? It has been observed that, whereas the details of His nativity connect to the details of His crucifixion, these details connect to the detail of His resurrection from the dead after three days. On a more personal level, however: could it be like the assumptions we ourselves would make in a similar dilemma? I mean, if your twelve-year-old son was missing the last place you’d look would probably be at the church, the synagogue or the temple, right? Yet this is where Jesus was all along.
Within the Father’s house
The Son has found His home…. [LSB 410]
He had been there before, being especially welcomed by a man named Simeon, holding the infant like a long-awaited trophy, singing, “Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace.” Then He was carried about as a helpless infant. Now He arrives on His own accord and appears to be quite at home. Later He will be expelled and executed outside the city, His body once again carried by others to a temporary grave.
To the harried question of His mother, Jesus speaks of His true identity and mission, saying, “I must be in my Father’s house.” And this, above all, is the reason Luke includes this incident here in his Gospel.
I not only suppose but even expect that, after twelve years the child growing from newborn to near teenager, Joseph acted faithfully and lovingly as Jesus’ father, even though they never really forgot that he was only the child’s stepfather. Or did they? Luke can refer to Mary and Joseph here and there as “his parents.” Even Mary herself, in our text, refers to “your father and I.” This is a good word and reminder for adoptive families how it is, more than anything else, the relationship that is developed that makes a man or a woman a mom or a dad more so than the merely genetic or physical connection.
But here it is imperative to remember that God is the Father of Jesus in a way that He is no one else’s Father. As the Son of God, Jesus possesses that Divine Nature that the Nicene Creed attempts to describe, calling Him the “only-begotten…begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God…begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” When Jesus replied to His mother, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He was speaking and reminding her of His Divine nature, His Divine mission, His Divine dwelling. His Father’s business is His business, and His Father’s house is His house, His true home. Jesus is the Glory of God come to fill His temple once again and to lead His people out of the slavery of sin and death to new, endless, sinless, abundant life. He does this by the bloody sacrifice of the temple of His body and its resurrection on the third day. Jesus is not only the Glory of God filling His temple, now the very temple is no longer merely a building of stone but His very body now glorified and inclusive of every believer, the Church.
Don’t forget or miss Jesus, but search for Him where He promises to be found—about His Father’s business in His Father’s house, in His Word preached and sacraments administered among His people, His body, the Church, where He is always searching for you with forgiveness and life and salvation.